Motorhome touring in the Loire Valley

It was on a visit to The Yorkshire Motorhome Show on 25th March 2017 that it all began and we took the plunge and bought ourselves a motorhome. The one we chose was a Hobby T65 GE Optima Deluxe as it suited the motorhome layout that we required. After picking up our new motorhome in mid-August we set off for a trip to Scotland to test out the features and learn how everything worked. It was a steep learning curve (a really steep one) and we were also able to fix a couple of minor problems with our motorhome before our planned trip to France. So, as I sit here on Day 69 of our motorhome adventure typing this, it seems a long time ago. We are currently staying on the Amboise motorhome Aire on the River Loire, within 10 minutes walk of the beautiful town and Chateau. The Amboise Sunday morning market here is great and runs from 8am until 2pm every Sunday. It’s advertised as the largest in the area and it’s like a huge outdoors supermarket selling fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese and every other imaginable kind of food as well as clothing, leather goods, beds and furniture. Everything you could possibly need and a lot you don’t!

Our stop in Amboise is part of a short tour of the Loire area famous, of course, for historical and charming chateaux, and wine. The chateau at Amboise is well worth a visit. It was the 15th century residence of king Charles VIII and Amboise town is full of charming restaurants, cafes and shops.

Until today, 22nd October 2017, I have worn shorts every day since we arrived in France on 25th September. The weather has been mostly sunny and warm but now it’s Autumn it looks like the weather is changing so I’m looking forward to heading further south into Spain.

We started our tour of The Loire Valley in the town of Saumur and we stayed for the night at the motorhome Aire at a cost of 12.80 Euros per night, which is only a short walk from the town centre. The leaves were falling from the trees and we awoke the next morning with a roof piled high with dead leaves and the problem of how to get the leaves off the roof. The answer? Drive as fast as the speed limit allows so that all the leaves blow off your motorhome roof!

Our next stop was the campsite at the fortress town of Chinon costing 15 Euros per night and only a short walk across the bridge to the town centre. Chinon has a very impressive fortress that you access via a free lift from the town centre. We spent a couple of hours at Chinon Fortress which we really enjoyed. Standing on the fortress walls, as did Richard the Lionheart in the 12th century, I tried to imagine what it would be like being under siege for a year, which is what happened several times in Medieval times. We decided to spend 2 nights at Chinon so that we could take advantage of the washing machines at the campsite.

Chinon Fortress

After leaving Chinon we stopped to visit the chateau at Usse, famous for being the inspiration for the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty.

Our next stop for the night was at the pretty village of Azay-le-Rideau where we stayed at the village camping cars Aire costing 9.80 Euros. The beauty of French Aires is that they are usually situated at the edge of a small town or village so that you can walk in to do you food shopping and to sightsee. The more parking that is provided near towns and villages, the better in my view. After all good parking encourages more people to visit and to spend their money!

One of the things we have noticed about the French villages we have seen so far in the Loire region is how nicely they are landscaped and also how they put the pedestrian first. Many villages have traffic calming with a maximum speed of 20km/h, although the locals seem to ignore this.

The chateau at Villandry, our next stop, proved to be one of our favourites due to its beautiful colourful gardens. Again, we stayed at the Aire about 300 metres from the village and this is where we encountered our first vegetable vending machine. Put your money in and out pops a cauliflower. Ingenious!

David and Anne at Villandry Chateau

Motorhoming is a fantastic way to see many places. Wake up with a different view everyday. What could be better but what happens when you have a problem and you are in a foreign country and don’t speak the language. We had discovered a minor water leak from our shower so we located the nearest Hobby dealer and turned up just as they were closing for their 2 hour lunchbreak. No need to worry when you are in a motorhome because we opened the fridge, made lunch and waited 2 hours until they opened. Google Translate came in very useful in trying to explain to the very nice reception lady that we had water leaking from our shower and could they fix it under warranty! Two hours later we drove off after they had re-sealed the shower tray around its edges and they had said that will solve the problem but don’t use it for 24 hours.

It was time to check in to a campsite so we could wash our bedding so a quick look online and we had found one 8km away in the suburbs of the city of Tours. We caught the bus into the city and had a nice lunch and a look around the old town before heading back to use the campsite washing machine.

The final stop on our motorhome tour of The Loire was Blois but this is where we had planned to meet up with our good friends Lynne and Mark and stay in a hotel for 2 nights. Parking up at the Logis Auberge de la Caillere it felt strange that we would be staying in a building rather than a motorhome. Real food rather than camp cooking was appreciated before we headed south through France on our way to Spain. This motorhome life is a good one and we are excited about the next stage of our motorhome adventure!

Meeting good friends Lynne and Mark at Chaumont sur Loire

 

 

Chaumont sur Loire chateau

Motorhome in France – How we pay for stuff

Having been in France one week now in our motorhome I thought I would mention how we pay for stuff in supermarkets, shops and restaurants etc. and give you an update on how our motorhome adventure is going.

Our motorhome on the Royan to Le Verdon ferry

We are now in the Royan area of south-west France and have taken our motorhome on the Royan to Le Verdon ferry. The last two days have been poor weather after previously been in the mid 20’s and sunny. The weather forecast is for the sun to return so in the meantime we have been cycling on the many cycle tracks in the area and swimming in the indoor swimming pool. We are using the ACSI camping card and this campsite is 17 Euros per night. The ACSI Camping Card is great and is full of campsites you can use at cheap prices, off peak.

We have been living healthily on salads, melon and ham for the last 2 nights although I made bacon rolls today with a pack of bacon we bought at Sainbury’s in Folkstone, before we used the Channel Tunnel. That’s the last of the British bacon for a while unfortunately!

In a few days we will head north again following The Atlantic coast to La Rochelle and Nantes before heading east along The Loire Valley to meet up with friends in Blois on the 22nd October.

On the banks of the River Loir at La Fleche

On the way to Royan we stopped overnight at our first French Aire in the pretty town of La Fleche which lies on the Loir River. This is a free Aire next to a busy road but close to a supermarket and the shops in the town. For those that have not heard of an ‘Aire’, they are parking areas for motorhomes and there are thousands of them all over France. Many of them are free to use or cost only a few Euro’s per  night, depending on the facilities they have. The idea being that motorhome owners will use them to park and then use the local shops and other facilities. Because there are thousands of motorhomes in France it’s a smart move to have motorhome parking as it improves the economy of that area, something that the UK could learn from.

When we arrived in La Fleche I thought that we were on the banks of the famous Loire river  (France’s longest river at 629 miles long), but I soon realised that this was a different river completely. There is a subtle difference as the famous river has an ‘e’ on the end!

Anyway, I thought that I would mention whether we are staying within our budget of £60 a day that we set ourselves. In September we just exceeded our budget and spent £65 a day but there was a lot of diesel included in that because we drove a lot of miles in the UK because we were at a wedding. In the last few days we have only spent about £35 a day in campsite fees and food, so I’m pleased with that.

Before our motorhome adventure in France I took out a Halifax Clarity credit card and a Caxton pre-loaded cash card. With the Halifax Clarity card there are no fees to use the card, no cash withdrawal fees and no annual fee. The Caxton card can be pre-loaded with Euros and the exchange rate you get is good. The last rate we got was 1.12 Euros to the pound and I noticed in Sainbury’s that their exchange rate was only 1.10 at the time.

One week into our European motorhome adventure and we are really enjoying things so far. It’s very relaxing, we are speaking French although Anne’s is far better than mine! Our diet is better than we had in the UK and we both feel healthier, although the bacon roll that we had today and the British sausages we still have in our freezer is a reminder of the UK! I haven’t shaved for 3 days and I’m looking like an ageing surf dude. Anne says that’s rubbish and I’m the exact opposite of a surf dude – whatever that might mean!

Finally, for anyone interested in World War 2 history, we have seen a monument dedicated to the 10 men killed in Operation Frankton in 1942. 12 British commandos launched their canoes from a submarine in The Gironde estuary and planted limpet mines on German ships at the French port of Bordeaux. Only 2 made it back alive and the rest were executed by the Germans, even though they were in British uniform and should have been treated as Prisoners of War. The daring raid was the subject of a 1955 film called The Cockleshell Heroes starring Trevor Howard, Christopher Lee and others.

Beach in south west France

Our European motorhome adventure begins – France Day 1

After spending a night at the Caravan and Motorhome site in Folkstone, only 15 minute’s drive from The Channel Tunnel, we paid a visit to Sainbury’s at Folkstone to fill our motorhome with diesel and buy some groceries to keep us going a couple of days. Our European motorhome adventure was about to begin!

We had booked a crossing at 11.50am costing £80.64 one way and arrived at the terminal early. Having never used the Channel Tunnel before I wasn’t sure of the procedure but it was all very straight forward. Pulling up to the terminal barrier the system recognised our registration number and asked us if we wanted to travel on the earlier 10.50 train, at no extra charge, rather than the one an hour later that we had booked.

The machine printed a boarding card that we hung around our rear view mirror and we then went to the passport control barrier where our passports were checked. Once through passport control we were pulled over by security so that they could check that our gas was turned off.

There are two big car park holding areas at The Channel Tunnel and we parked up in the car park that was for vehicles over 1.85 metres high. In the car park there is a flicker board that tells you when your train is boarding. We were on train D and we only had about 15 minutes to wait before the flicker board said that boarding was commencing. This is when you drive from the parking holding area and just follow the signs that say FRANCE. You then have to queue again until it’s your turn to board the train. It’s a strange feeling because you have to drive along what is effectively the station platform before driving onto the train. You then have to drive through the train until the vehicles in front of you stop but you have to be careful that you don’t straddle the doors dividing each carriage.

Emerging into France after only about 20 minutes we were soon driving off the train and starting our motorhome adventure in France. This is when things started to get stressful because in my infinite wisdom I had changed the satnav settings to avoid toll roads. This turned out to be a bad decision because the satnav then took us off the main roads, down country lanes and back towards the Channel Tunnel. After a lot of swearing and cursing we decided to turn off the “avoid tolls” setting on the satnav and we seemed to be getting back to the correct road and direction but our satnav still tried to make us turn left when the signposts were saying we should turn right. I took Anne’s advice and followed the road signs and ignored the satnav.

The good thing about using French toll roads, apart from being quiet and fast, is that using them gave us chance to test out our Sanef Liber-t Tag that I had bought a few months ago. It’s an electronic tag that sticks near your rearview mirror so that you don’t have to pay cash at toll booths. I can highly recommend this tag to anybody who uses French motorways. Despite an initial cost to set the Liber-t Tag up you save loads of hassle because as you approach the toll barrier the toll system reads your tag and the barrier lifts. You don’t need money.You then get a bill at the end of each month for all the toll roads you have used. I think this is brilliant and I highly recommend the Liber-t Tag system.

Our first day of our motorhome adventure in France was going well and we had decided to spend a couple of nights in the French seaside resort of Le Touquet Paris Plage and we had set the satnav for a campsite we wanted to stay on. Nearing the town of Le Touquet the satnav cocked up again by telling us to take the 2nd exit on a roundabout instead of the 3rd exit and we ended up facing a security gate for the huge French company Valeo and had to make a 3 point turn on a narrow road to make a U-turn. A fairly simple manoeuvre was complicated by the fact that it must have been the start of a new shift because there were dozens of cars piling past us and there were no gaps for us to turn around.

Le Touquet, France

We eventually reached the lovely town of Le Toquet and found a nice flat pitch to park our motorhome at Camping Stoneham. There is a Camping Car Aire at Le Touquet but it’s one of the more expensive ones at 15 Euros a night so we decided we would pay a little extra to have a proper campsite. Two nights at Camping Stoneham cost us 52.80 Euros, which is more expensive than what I would have preferred but at least we get an electrical hookup and toilet and shower facilities.

When we were on our motorhome trip around Scotland we didn’t get chance to use our bikes so we decided to get the bikes off the bike rack and cycle to the beachfront and town. Le Touquet has very good cycle lanes, and it’s flat, so we cycled along the beachfront to the sand dunes at the far end of town and then came back through the town centre, which is full of very nice shops and cafes.

Beach at Le Touquet

Our first day in France in our motorhome has been a good one, despite a few minor problems with navigation. This trip is intended to be an adventure and there are bound to be problems and things that go wrong. That’s half the fun. Life is full of challenges whatever we all do and the measure of a man is how quickly he gets back up after a fall….. so the saying goes!

Sand yachts at Le Touquet